Cold weather and life rafts

It has been quite cold here in the Pacific Northwest. You don’t have to go very far to get in to single digit territory which brings up the question of what conditions a life raft will operate in. As some of us remember from physics, everything else being the same the pressure of a gas will decrease as the temperature decreases. Since life rafts like to have around 2 psi of gas pressure, as it gets colder the amount of gas needed to reach that pressure increases.

Commercial life rafts are designed to work down to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Rafts designed for recreational boats tend to have their lowest working temperature much higher, somewhere between plus 10 degrees to plus 40 degrees.


So what happens if your raft isn’t designed for the temperature range where you will be operating? Nothing good! If your raft is able to deploy itself out of its container or valise it will not fully inflate and will take a long time even getting to that point. Worse yet it might not inflate enough inside the container (or valise) to even deploy leaving you swimming in very cold water.

For most vessel operators really cold weather is not an issue. Wintertime is for skiing or trips to the sun, not boating. Still there are some of us who find being on the water in the winter really beautiful and without the crowds that sunshine brings. This group needs to be concerned and choose the right life raft. USCG approved commercial rafts are a great choice but tend to be pretty large to fit on recreational boats. Switlik’s new Offshore Passage Raft and Coastal Passage Raft also provide excellent cold weather inflation since they use high pressure air rather than carbon dioxide as their inflation gas. With high pressure air you get inflation times that do not change much as it gets colder. My guess is this is the raft Santa uses on his sleigh and the really good news is the material it is made out of is tough enough that reindeer hooves should not pose an issue.

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Director : Chad Stahelski.
Producer : Basil Iwanyk.
Release : February 8, 2017
Country : United States of America.
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Language : English, Italiano.
Runtime : 122 min.
Genre : Thriller, Action, Crime.

Movie ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ was released in February 8, 2017 in genre Thriller. Chad Stahelski was directed this movie and starring by Keanu Reeves. This movie tell story about John Wick is forced out of retirement by a former associate looking to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to aid him, Wick travels to Rome and does battle against some of the world’s most dangerous killers.

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Let’s all be safe out there

Two articles piqued my curiosity today, one on the sinking of the Bounty, the other about “two rival sailing organizations, each planning to travel from Hampton Roads to the Caribbean”. The common thread is leaving port when the expected weather conditions suggest staying tied Boyka: Undisputed IV film now

The article on the Bounty written by G. Anderson Chase is a good hard look at what did go wrong and what we can learn from the tragedy.  The idea that as a group we are smarter than any one individual but that the captain has to encourage the crew to participate in planning is not new but does go against the tradition of the captain being the boss.

There is also discussion regarding abandoning a vessel and why waiting until you can “step up in to the life raft” might not be the best course of action. Allowing enough time to have an organized, safe evacuation is important- but one does not want to abandon a vessel that is still seaworthy.

The second article by Mike Hixenbaugh talks about two groups heading to the Caribbean. Again bad weather was forecast and one group left early to get ahead of it. The other waited until their scheduled departure time and ended up in the middle of some nasty conditions giving the Coast Guard plenty of practice rescuing people.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why organizers keep putting people in harms way. I also can’t figure out why those on board the vessels can’t make their own decision that the conditions are unsafe. Do we all want to have the Coast Guard dictate to us when we can use our boats? They have started doing just that, the recent America’s Cup regatta is a good example. We need to use good common sense so as Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say “let’s all be safe out there”.

I will be reading these articles again to see what more I can learn, with winter upon us there is time to think about what happened and improve on our safety procedures.

Sinking off of Florida

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a friend whose brother was going to take a small boat from Miami to Bimini Island. He did not have an EPIRB and I was asked if we rented them. Since I don’t rent EPIRB’s I offered to loan my own PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), something I normally don’t do but it seemed right.

To make a long story short (here is the long story) the boat sank and the two occupants found themselves in the water. The PLB did its job and got the Coast Guard on site to make a helicopter rescue and the pair are now back on dry land enjoying the Ft. Lauderdale boat show.

Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon
Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon

We all learned from this disaster. The NOAA web site allowed me to change all the registration information when the PLB left my shop so the emergency calls went to the right people, not mine. The change was simple and only took a minute, registering your beacon online is the way to go. I also learned to be a bit more careful when loaning equipment and provide the proper accessories for the application. My beacon lives in my Camelback for bike riding. I cut the lanyard short and don’t have the flotation pouch installed (and hope I never need it when bike riding) just to make it a bit lighter and not get tangled up in everything.

Teaching the prospective user the proper operation is also importing. While I provided a demonstration I did not make the extra step to force the user to demonstrate his knowledge. We all learn differently, some by watching, some by reading and others by doing. I allowed for watching but not reading or doing.

Shakespeare said “all’s well that ends well” and I guess that applies here but with a little more thought the ending might have been a bit better.


Boaters ask me if they should purchase an EPIRB or PLB. In the past I have gone through the technical differences between the two beacons without highlighting the one important difference. Then I received an email from an individual who I had loaned my personal PLB and actually had to use it when his boat sank. His message said that at 10:30 the boat sank and they turned the beacon on. At 11:00 they remembered to ‘pull the antenna out which they had forgotten about’. The USCG did not receive notification of their distress until after the antenna had been deployed. At 12:00 they saw the Coast Guard helicopter that had been deployed to rescue them. The great news is they survived the ordeal but as with most disasters there are things we can learn.

Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon
Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon

The main thing I learned is the most important difference between and EPIRB’s and PLB’s. With an EPIRB when you put it in the water (after taking it out of its bracket) it starts transmitting. There are no other steps and the antenna is already deployed.


When we get in high stress situations it is easy to forget things. The military trains its troops until actions become second nature but we don’t have the time or patience to do that for all of our safety equipment. Simplicity becomes the key and in this case and EPIRB would have shaved 30 minutes off of the rescue time. If this sinking had happened in cold water, 30 minutes could be the difference between life and death.

From now on when a boating customer asks if they should purchase an EPIRB or PLB, my answer is going to be an EPIRB.

Hydrotesting Worthington SCUBA cylinders

Worthington’s steel X-Series cylinders are becoming more an more popular in the SCUBA industry. While they might be great for the user they are a nightmare for hydrotest facilities. These cylinders are governed by the US Department of Transportation Special Permit number 14157 commonly referred to as SP-14157. This special permit “authorizes the manufacture, marking, sale and use” of these cylinders.

While we as a hydrotest facility need to deal with all of the technical parts of the SP, users must worry about the “use” section.

  • You must have the cylinder requalified (hydrotested) every 5 years. This is not a big deal, all cylinders require requalification.
  • “A current copy of the special permit must be maintained at each facility where the cylinder is offered for transportation.” This is not a requirement if you transport the cylinder in your personal car but does apply if it is in a company vehicle or is being transported commercially.
  • “Under no circumstance are these cylinders to be filled to a pressure exceeding the marked service pressure at 70 degrees F.”
  • “MODES OF TRANSPORTATION AUTHORIZED: Motor vehicle, rail freight, cargo vessel and cargo aircraft only.” This is a big deal, you can not transport these cylinders on a PASSENGER VESSEL.  If you go on a dive charter and want to take one of these cylinders it is illegal!

My guess is very few people have read and understood this special permit and understand the ramifications to the SCUBA industry. I was part of that group until the transportation section was pointed out to me. If you own any of these cylinders it would be worthwhile to read the special permit.

Personal Locator Beacons and hiking

A while back I wrote about how I carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) when riding my mountain bike. Last weekend my local newspaper ran an article on solo hiking and the writer suggests carrying a PLB. She talks about the cost and that some units have an annual fee. A true PLB does not have any annual fee. The satellite system it operates on is owned by the government so your only cost is the initial outlay and then seven years later, the cost of a new battery.

The Ocean Signal PLB is the smallest currently on the market. Selling for under $300.00 the cost works out to $3.56 per month, less than the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Actually it is also less than five hours of on-street parking here in Tacoma.

With winter coming don’t forget that a PLB would also be great if you have a snowmobile, cross country ski or even drive in areas without cell coverage. Maybe this is just the ticket to get us all outside more often this winter!

Switlik life rafts- installing a Hydrostatic Release

Switlik Logo

Switlik builds great life rafts but has to have the most confusing cradle set up when you want to include a hydrostatic release.

This is how you start

And you need to get here

I have outlined the steps in one of my Tech Files articles, complete with pictures and tips. Hooking up the hydrostatic release correctly is the most important task a boat owner faces when dealing with their life raft. Do it wrong and the raft will not properly deploy. Every cradle design is a bit different so make sure you have the instructions that fit your situation.

If you want to learn how to properly date your release, and have a bit of fun at the same time, check out the Hammar web site which has tools to help with your education.

Finally if Westpac Marine serviced your life raft and you have any questions please give us a call at (253) 627-6000. Our customer’s lives are important to us and taking a few minutes to make sure you have everything the way it should be is why we are here.

What has happened to Avon life rafts?

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Avon life rafts used to be the major brand in the recreational marine market. Several years ago they were purchased by Zodiac who were already selling their own brand of life rafts in the United States. Zodiac supported the Avon brand for a few years but what they seemed to be doing was moving their customers over to their main brand.

Obtaining spare parts and technical support has become more difficult and we are now at a point were we can not guarantee that we can get what we need to service a specific raft. If we have all the parts on the shelf, there is no problem so it is worth calling and discussing your service needs.

This is not the first brand Zodiac has phased out. We used to sell and service BFA life rafts until once again, Zodiac decided not to support the brand in the U.S. Over the years Uniraft, Achilles, Autoflug and others have all suffered the same fate. If you own an Avon life raft the good news (if there is such a thing in this case) is the cost of rafts has come down and you can most likely replace yours for less than it originally cost.

Note: If you are reading this from outside the U.S., Avon is most likely still supported. Check with your local approved service facility.

Double Bar Buckles


A while back I received a phone call from a company that was having problems with some rental tents. The tents used web straps with plastic double bar buckles and the buckles were breaking. Photos shot back and forth and it was evident the tent manufacturer was using the buckles improperly which was causing the problem.

If you check out the buckle on the left (the one without webbing) you see three  horizontal “bars”. The top one (with teeth) is part of the locking mechanism for the loose end of the strap. The middle bar is where you should be sewing your webbing like the buckle in the center with the green webbing. The bottom bar is NOT designed to be used as an attachment point. The buckle on the right with the red webbing is improperly assembled and with any sort of load, the bar will break.

We sell double bar buckle straps in widths from 3/4″ to 2″. They come in any length and our minimum order is one (1) strap. For those who want to make their own straps check out all of the buckles and webbing we have in stock.